How do we value forest ecosystem services?
New Zealand’s green image is an integral part of our identity, adding value to both our exports and tourism. Our forests contribute to this image by providing a range of ecosystem services such as habitat, water quality, carbon sequestration, erosion prevention and recreation, the value of which is not well established.
So how can a value be placed on something that, in many cases, can only be perceived? This is something Scion’s team of resource economists specialise in. Scion’s annual Forest Ecosystems Services forum also provides a platform for our scientists, government, research organisations and forest industry representatives to share knowledge on current perspectives at a national and international level. This year’s forum focused on issues and pathways to implementation.
“People do value the intangible benefits provided by forests,” says Dr Richard Yao. “Our survey of 1000 households shows that the average New Zealand household would willingly pay about $200 a year to conserve key native species in planted forests. Likewise we can represent values on the tangible environmental benefits. For example, about $250 million a year could be saved through avoided erosion if another 2.9 million hectares of forests were to be planted.
“Many ecosystem benefits can be gained from sustainable forestry. As an example, one major forestry company has established about 17 hectares of freshwater crayfish ponds within the forests. As a result, they sell about 300 kg of ‘keewai’ every year in addition to conserving a threatened species, and demonstrating that their management practices are reducing sediment runoff and producing clean water. This is illustrated by the success of their freshwater crayfish venture.
“What was highlighted at this year’s forum is that we need to provide more robust information and education around the importance of ecosystem services. We also need to develop mechanisms for their implementation such as a universal economic model for valuing ecosystem services to increase their visibility in policy and investment decision making.”